You know what the world needs right now? More seriousness, that’s what. Within that, we desperately need more serious commentary. These are serious times and they demand stout-hearted, truth-telling, serious people. The kinds of people who will speak truth unto power while assaulting a series of diminutive straw men. Serious types who stroke their serious chins with their seriously perfectly-formed serious fingers.
There are rituals that must of course be observed. You must, if you wish to be serious about these matters, admit that Donald J Trump is a sub-optimal, even deplorable, president. You certainly do not hold a candle for him. Nor do you hold anything else. No fawning admirer you. No sirree.
But, being gimlet-eyed, you can identify the real issue here. Trump might be vulgar. He might be a brute or an oaf or even a dangerously unstable individual whose combination of arrogance, ignorance, and self-regard, threatens the future governance of the United States and, by extension, the world. He could very easily be all of these things (though it is important – very important! – to remember the importance of keeping an open mind). But so what? Because you have to remember one other thing. One thing that trumps (ha!) everything else. He is hated by all the right people. Which means – and here we get to the heart of the matter – he must be doing something right. It’s not terribly important to point to the things Trump is doing right, you just need to know, or rather sense, they must be there. Somewhere. Besides, the people who hate him are infantile!
These contributions to the story of our times tend to come from one of three quarters (see what I did there?). First, there is the contrarian so predictable he’s no longer a contrarian at all. Then there is the old, hard, nasty right who, I suppose, at least have the honesty of their poisonous convictions. And finally, in the third category, there are members of the self-styled heretic left who, though they protest their liberalism, haven’t written anything genuinely liberal – or even liberalish – in years. Because when all is said and done and when push comes to shove no hippy can be left un-kicked. And push must always come to shove.
But even hippies can be right. So, god help us all, can sandal-knitters and people who make yoghurt from used cardigans. (And students, even, perhaps especially, students at places such as Berkeley are always going to behave like students at places like Berkeley. They might be twits but they’re kids. So, c’mon.)
There is something dispiriting about this school of punditry, however. You don’t have to think inviting Donald Trump to pay a state visit to the United Kingdom would be the end of the world to still be depressed by the haste – the seven day unseemly haste – with which it was offered. You do not have to think him a tangerine fascist to reckon him a wrong ‘un nonetheless and the clearest danger to the American idea since, well, since any of us first drew breath.
If you really think Trump deplorable – and, remember, this school of commentary invariably does say it thinks that – you might, just for once, wonder whether it’s sensible to offer that as just a throat-clearing observation before moving on to your real target: the softies who think Trump really might be just as ghastly as, to be fair, he promised to be. Because otherwise y’all risk seeming like the people who attack Trump’s opponents because that’s easier than confessing your secret-and-mildly-suppressed admiration for The Donald. Look, lots of people really do like him. There’s no need for you all to be so bashful.
Easier, I suppose, to reckon people such as David Frum and Eliot Cohen and Max Boot and David Brooks and Bill Kristol and countless others – each of them in their different ways well-credentialed within the conservative movement – hysterics in league with a mindless opposition driven potty by Trump Derangement Syndrome. Easier to focus, I suppose, on the rhetorical excesses of college students than the evidence plainly before all our eyes. If that’s what it takes to be the big man on contrarian, serious, campus then so be it I guess.
But the rest of us can see more clearly than that. People who have always looked askance at the United States have no reason to correct their angle of perspective in the Age of Trump. That doesn’t mean they are wrong this time. More to the point, however, is the fact that, in Britain at least, many of the people most appalled by Trump are people who would ordinarily count themselves among America’s greatest admirers. They hate – and are scared by – Trump precisely because he counterfeits so many of the things that have, for all its other and acknowledged faults – made the United States a country worth admiring. A great idea unevenly executed, but worth something nonetheless.
Trump pisses on all of that.
Here we pause – solemnly, naturally – to observe that good things will happen in America while Trump is president. We digest that and pause again to note that since the president of the United States must make so many decisions that it is almost a statistical impossibility they can all be the wrong decisions. Trump will get some things right. He may even do some good things. He might, in time, prove worthy of the office he holds.
That imposes no requirement to give him the benefit of the doubt. Nothing he has done so far earns him that. You can think his executive orders wrong (and stupid!) without thinking a) Islamist terrorism is peachy or b) that the United States has no right to enforce its own borders or c) that it ain’t a large and sometimes difficult and frightening world out there. Making a genocide of tiny straw men doesn’t prove much, you know.
There are, in general, two tests that should be applied to any government initiative. First, will it work? Second, but no less important, is it the right thing to do? A yes to the second can sometimes be enough, a yes to the first never is.
There is no evidence, as yet, that anything Trump has proposed passes this twin test. Nor is there any evidence that he is temperamentally properly disposed to exercise the awesome – a word to be used in this context advisedly – power of his office. If you care about liberty you cannot like Donald Trump. The one obviates the other. This is obvious unless you are one of those types.
But still you want to say the people who are horrified by Trump are the real villains? That’s your prerogative, for sure. Go for it. But as you do so, tough guy, remember that even as you are so very busy being so very serious there is the appalling possibility you might be mistaken. Some small little voice, one resistant to click-bait sirens, might just occasionally wonder if the cucks and hippies and orthodox conservatives and Tories might just have a point. Because Hillary Clinton would have been better, you know. (“Better” here meaning “Possibly non-ideal but significantly better than the alternative”.) Even if her election might have been praised by all the wrong people.
Maybe, if you want to be serious for a moment, you should consider the possibility Trump betrays the American ideal and that, by focusing on the awfulness of his opponents, you rather ignore the more salient points plainly observable to everyone who has the misfortune to lack your iron-balled seriousness.
Harry Mount and Michael Segalov debate the merits of protesting: